Saturday, August 21, 2021

Extremus: Year 6

Over the next year, the micrometeoroid problem worsens. Several even manage to slip through the field. Or maybe the field actually teleports the objects inside of it, instead of away, which was an early problem that the technology had. A woman named Weaver figured out how to reduce the chances of that happening, but she was operating under the assumption that the interstellar density would not change this dramatically. Fortunately, it’s not like Extremus was designed with a single layer of aluminum foil. The bulkhead has so far proved strong enough to withstand the damage, and robots have been dispensed to repair the dents immediately. Many of the meteoroids don’t even hit the ship itself anyway. The field is meant to be a buffer; not the last line of defense. Still, it’s a concerning issue, and it still needs to be dealt with.
After a week, the new committee that Halan formed reconvenes. Individuals and teams give their own ideas about how to solve this issue. The Bridgers make another appearance, but it’s their last one. Any information that they need to know about the future of the mission can be passed along to them at a later time. They don’t vocalize any ideas themselves, but everyone else has more than one possibility. Head of Security Gideon has the simplest idea. They could make a lateral course adjustment, and fly parallel to the galactic plane, rather than right through the center of it. It’s not the craziest plan, but it’s also not ideal as it extends their mission time by a measure of years, and potentially uses up too much energy. Lead Mechanic Holgersen thinks that all they need to do is bolster the hull by adding Whipple bumpers, and other armor. Again, this isn’t insane, and it’s certainly doable. Almost all of the ideas come with downsides. They are only short-term solutions, or they make something else about the mission harder, or they just won’t necessarily be good enough for an even higher interstellar density. And then there is one that is the craziest of them all. Surprisingly, it comes from passenger representative, First Chair Ebner.
Omega and Lead Engineer Ocean have been working out the details for the last year, and now it’s time to present it to the rest of the engineering team. So far, no one else has been brought into the mix—not even the rest of the crew—and this strategy has been working. That has to change now, but they should still be able to keep the circle tight. “Thank you all for coming,” Veca begins. “I know you’re all worried about your apprentices, but I’m confident that they can survive the next few hours without you. That’s what they’re here for.” When the mission began, a certain number of people were approved for the crew, based on their education and background. Now that the mission is six years in, some of the younger passengers are finally ready to prepare to replace the initial crew members at a one-to-one ratio. Each current crew member has been assigned an apprentice to train, who will supposedly take over their responsibilities when their shift is over.
Veca continues, “before I begin, due credit is owed to the woman who came up with the idea. She has no engineering experience, so it’s the rest of us who will have to make it actually work, but it’s a good example of how everyone has something to offer, and solutions can come from some of the most unexpected places. First Ebner, would you please stand up?”
Satyria likes to be heard, but she doesn’t just want people to think that she’s important. She wants to actually be important, and to earn all of the recognition she receives. She works hard to contribute to the cause, and never rests on her laurels. Still, she doesn’t love to be the center of attention. She would rather just know that people are pleased with her contributions on their own time. Even so, she stands up, and thanks the crowd as they clap politely.
“Now. Again, we need you. This is a massive endeavor. About half of you are directly responsible for the construction of Extremus. The other half was still in the middle of your education. Either way, you all know what it took to make this dream come true, and none of you takes that for granted. It is a magnificent vessel, and I am profoundly proud of the work we have all accomplished. Unfortunately, as you read in the pre-meeting brief, there is one flaw, which comes out of a lack of data about the composition of the galaxy. You built a great ship. Now I’m going to have to ask you to do it again. It won’t be an entirely new ship that’s the same size as this one, but it will be heavily fortified, and it will be responsible for acting as a sort of frontrunner shield. We’re tentatively calling it The Spearhead.”
One of the engineers raises his hand. “You want a second ship to fly in front of us, so it can take all the micrometeoroid damage on our behalf?”
Before Veca can answer, another engineer piggy-backs on the question. “How do you suggest we get this thing in front of Extremus? Even if we build it in modules, and assemble it on the outside, we’re literally going as fast as relativity allows us. We’ll have to slow down so it can accelerate, and get ahead of us.”
“That’s what those three are for.” Veca points to the corner of the room.
Temporal Engineer Raddle and her apprentice, August are sitting with a second apprentice whose first day on the job was yesterday. Valencia stands up. “We don’t have to slow down to get something in front of the ship. All we have to do is teleport it to a point in space ahead of us. FTL technology isn’t fast or safe enough for general interstellar travel, but it’s perfect for short range jumps. We’ll attach the Spearhead to the bottom of the hull, fire up its engines, send it to the edge of shield space, and let it fly in front of us. Boom, easy.”
“Yeah, that sounds easy,” someone from the crowd groans.
“Simple, not easy,” Veca corrects Valencia’s point. “Look, I know that this sounds crazy,” but Omega and I have been running simulations for months now. Quite frankly, we should have designed the ship to have an external shield the entire time. It will create a clear path for us to follow, and warn us of other dangers ahead of time, like gamma-ray bursts, and collapsed stars. The Spearhead is about more than just micrometeorite strikes. It’s about knowing what’s coming before risking any lives.”
Before anyone can say anything more about anything, they hear a thunderous explosion, and feel a shockwave ripple through their bodies. Captain Yenant, who’s been quiet this whole time to let the experts carry out this presentation, jumps up and activates his emergency teleporter. He likes to walk from place to place most of the time, but obviously he needs to get to the bridge quickly. Mayhem has taken over, and crew members are screaming data at each other, and trying to communicate with their comrades around the ship. “Report!” Halan screams.
“Fires on decks nineteen through twenty-two. Casualty reports still coming in. Deaths upwards of eleven.”
“Sir,” someone else begins.
“What? Just say it!” Halan demands.
“Deck twenty-four, main engineering, has been obliterated. Twenty-three is exposed.”
“Has it been sealed off?” Halan questions.
“Yes, sir.”
“Teleport all injured parties to the infirmary.”
“Already done, sir.”
“Main engines.”
“Power efficiency.”
“Down to 83%, but rising.”
“Hull integrity.”
“Stressed between twenty-two and three.”
“You’re sure that everyone is out of twenty-three,” Halan asks.
“Sir,” he confirms.
“Decouple,” Halan orders. “Jettison deck twenty-three, and what’s left of twenty-four, before they tear us apart.”
“Jettisoning twenty-three and down,” he agrees as he inputs the command into the computer.
Halan waits a moment, and watches the screen to make sure the damaged sections are successfully removed from the ship. “Okay. Reframe speed.”
Halan sighs and shakes his head in sadness. “All that. All that death, and we’re still just moving along like nothing happened. Did we even lose any time?”
“No, sir.”
“Great. I’m sure everyone we lost was comforted in their final moments that we’re all still doing okay.”
“Compile the data, and run full diagnostics on every single system on the ship, including the passenger sections. I’m going to the infirmary.”
Fifty-five crew members, and one passenger were killed in what they could come to learn was yet another micrometeorite strike. According to what little data could be recovered from the incident, it was about the size of an ancient Earthan baseball. Though not so big, it was able to do sizable damage, because of how fast the ship was moving. The teleportation shield made an error when it transported the object closer to the ship, where it was able to rip straight through the lowest deck, and kill everyone there instantly. The only silver lining was that this was the main engineering section, which was designed to sit lower than anything else. The passenger sections were numbered from the opposite direction, since it was more intuitive for them to think of it like an above-ground building. Level one actually coincided with Deck 20.
Since nearly all of the current-shift engineers were in the middle of the meeting on Deck 2, they managed to survive the strike. Sadly, their apprentices were down there instead, monitoring systems, and relogging data. They were all killed, and as if that wasn’t sad on its own, it also meant that there would be no one to replace those crew members once their shift officially ended. Perhaps Halan would be able to convince them to extend their shifts until replacements could be sufficiently trained, but that isn’t what matters right now. They have to rebuild, and fortify the physical shield, and increase power to the teleporter field, if possible. Nothing like this can ever happen again, and it falls on Halan’s shoulders to ensure that. No one seems to blame him for it, but as Captain, he is ultimately responsible for literally everything. A lot of people were nominated for the position, and about half of them declined specifically because it was too much pressure. The other half are probably feeling lucky right now that they weren’t put in charge. Well, one of them doesn’t feel lucky, because she’s dead.
Captain Yenant addresses the whole ship on the evening announcements, explaining to everyone what happened, and what they will be doing to prevent another tragedy. It’s over the next few days that he starts to hear the criticisms, and they are all pretty much valid. He can’t condemn anyone for losing faith in his leadership, or in the mission as a whole. There is a carefully laid out procedure for recalling a captain, but the passengers have less to say about it than the crew does. For now, no one’s been talking about that, and Mercer has been keeping his ear to the ground for it. It’s not out of the question, though. It’s never out of the question. And Halan will step down gracefully, should the need arise. A battle for power does no one any good, and undermines the spirit of the ship’s mandate. Hopefully it won’t come to that, and it’s looking like it won’t. The crew still does not blame him for what happened.
The repairs themselves were fairly quick and easy. Extremus was designed to drop any section at will in case something like this occurs. The decks above were negatively impacted, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed. A significant portion of the vessel was designated for spare parts and raw materials. That’s not the problem, though. It’s the missing decks themselves that are going to make things difficult for them. They don’t ever plan on stopping, unlike most ships, which only have to make it to a destination in the stellar neighborhood. The really cool thing about relativistic travel is that it cuts down on the amount of time that something can go wrong. At the moment, the closest outpost is only twenty light years from Origin, which means while it takes a little over twenty years to get there from Earth, the crew only experiences ten days. Extremus, on the other hand, will be en route for 216 years. They can’t afford to have to rebuild the ship over and over again. They’ll be able to replace those missing decks over the course of the next year, but every time that happens, it cuts down on their reserves. They will eventually run out, and Halan doesn’t know what happens when they get to that point. For now, the problem has to be solved, and Halan isn’t sure they’ll be able to take care of it before another strike kills them all.

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